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Slacker for Windows Phone 7 now available

Slacker Radio, the intuitive online music player that lets you stream a variety of preprogrammed and custom-made radio stations, has been churning out apps for mobile devices for a while now, with the first one coming to Blackberry devices in early 2009. Of course, in the quickly evolving cell phone space, staying relevant means making sure you’ve got new apps for the latest and greatest mobile operating systems, and right now, the latest is Windows Phone 7.

We got a preview of Slacker for Windows Phone 7 back in October, but the app was officially launched for the OS today. The guts aren’t very different from any of the other Slacker mobile apps: the service is free; the app displays album art, artist bios, and reviews along with standard track info; you get more than 130 crafted stations and as many customized stations as you care to make; and you can heart and ban tracks as well skip up to six tracks in an hour. There’s also the option to upgrade to Plus, which gets rid of the skip limits and ads, provides complete song lyrics, and allows mobile-device caching for offline playback.

However, the actual look and feel of Slacker for Windows Phone 7 is quite a bit different than any of the other apps. It’s very Zune-like, for lack of a better word. You can scroll through all the menus from left to right, and the featured music section looks much like the QuickPlay area of the Zune, with “pinned” album art. The image above does the interface more justice than any words can, really. All in all, it’s smooth and easy to use, though the scrolling is a bit too swift for my tastes. Of course, that is probably due to the actual Windows 7 device and not the app.

Slacker is now available for free in the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace.

Originally posted at Dialed In

Taptu updates its search apps for Android, iOS

Taptu started off as a mobile search solution aimed at helping users filter appropriate content for small-screened devices. It first appeared several years ago as a simple search portal on Web-capable phones, and then as an app for the iOS just last year. The folks over at Taptu have always had touch screens in mind while developing the interface for their apps. Today, they aim to make that even more apparent with My Taptu, an entertainment-centric app updated for both Android and iOS devices.

My Taptu for Android width="610" height="417"/>

My Taptu for Android.

(Credit:
Taptu)

The main goal of My Taptu is to provide users with entertainment on-the-go while filtering out content that is not optimized for a mobile device. It accomplishes this by pulling in specific RSS feeds that are made for small screens, but if you search for something that doesn’t have a mobile-optimized feed, the app will actually take full-size pages and compress them into a smaller format. The app is also designed to help you avoid information overload by letting you pick and choose exactly what info you want to pull in.

When you first launch My Taptu, you’re greeted with a single screen that has a variety of prepopulated streams, such as “Food & Drink” and “Tech & Gadgets.” (There’s also a MyTaptu section, which provides handy tips for using the app–this is a good place to start.) Under each heading is a row of cards displaying a condensed bit of information–an article headline and photo, for example. You can swipe up and down to scroll through rows, or left and right to scroll through cards. If you want to edit a row, there’s an “Options” button that lets you delete, move, share, or update it. (Shaking your device will also update cards.)

Adding a new topic is as simple as tapping the plus symbol at the top of the screen. This takes you to the StreamStore where you can choose from a variety of popular feeds or search for a specific one via the search box at the top of the screen. The feeds come in two varieties: single, which pulls from a specific site (such as CNET), and mixed, which brings in content from a variety of sites under a particular topic (such as politics). Currently, the mixed streams are populated only by Taptu, but the service plans to add a feature where users can make their own mixes, kind of like a playlist for content. You will then be able to share these lists with other users as well.

Once you click on a card, the amount of info provided depends on the feed. Some have just a headline while others provide a photo and blurb as well. Every page has a link back to the Web site that allows you to read the full story. You can also flip through the cards from this page, as well as bookmark and share articles via Facebook, Twitter, and more. It’s also worth mentioning that the cards are all automatically cached so that you can still access some content while offline.

My Taptu is currently available in iTunes and the Marketplace and is totally free. As of press time, it’s not even ad-supported, so now is the perfect time to check it out.

Originally posted at Android Atlas

Chrome could preload pages for ‘wicked-fast’ Web

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Google has begun work on a feature to let Chrome load pages before they’re needed, the latest instance of the company’s relentless focus on Web performance.

The work, described briefly in the Chrome issue tracker, said the project to “pre-load pages in background tabs for ‘wicked fast’ page loads” is scheduled to arrive in the browser’s code base in February. The very early stages of work has begun: support for an eventual option to enable testing the feature through Chrome’s “about:flags” interface.

With Chrome’s tabbed browsing interface, multiple pages can be loaded into separate memory compartments simultaneously. A background tab, presumably, is one that’s in use but hidden from the user interface. When a person clicks on a preloaded Web page, the browser could simply activate the page rather than load it.

One tricky part of the technology is of course deciding which pages, or fractions of pages, to preload and when to purge unread pages from memory. Some Web pages have dozens of links, and some browser users have dozens of active tabs open.

Another complication: artificial inflation of page-view statistics on the Web. Analytics tools will have to be able to distinguish between a “real” page view and a preload. A related analytics complication is registering when a preloaded page is activated. Apple Safari’s 3D interface for showing a thumbnail array of recently used Web pages brought similar complications.

Through a process called DNS prefetching, Chrome already tackles some potentially slow networking chores before Web pages are clicked. And Google has many other fast-Web projects under way, including a technology called False Start to speed encrypted Web pages, rewiring Web server communications with the SPDY protocol, support for the WebP image format as an alternative to JPEG, and switching to the libjpeg-turbo library for when JPEG images need to be drawn.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

Hands-on Opera Mobile beta browser for Android
Opera Mobile 10.1 beta for Android width="600" height="328"/>

The new Opera Mobile Android beta isn’t the same as Opera Mini for Android.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

Opera Software just unveiled Opera Mobile 10.1 beta for Android tonight, but we’ve had a chance to play around with a prerelease version for several days. Opera has already had a presence on Android phones in the form of Opera Mini, a Java-based proxy browser that delivers Web pages fed through Opera’s servers. Opera Mobile, by contrast, is a standalone HTML browser that can request, render, and display Web content independently of Opera’s servers.

On the front end, the two apps look identical, down to the log-in screen and license agreement you’ll have to accept before you can begin browsing. Opera Mini 5 and Opera Mobile 10.1 beta both have tabbed browsing, and a signature nine-entry “speed dial” for storing favorite sites. There’s also a password keeper, long-press context menus, and support for Opera Link, Opera’s service for syncing bookmarks, favorites, notes, and browser history across Opera browsers.

Opera Mobile 10.1 beta for Android width="250" height="400"/>

Opera Mobile renders the heavy CNET.com Web site in desktop mode by default, but the beta won’t support Adobe Flash.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

Mobile versus Mini
Despite the similarities, there are a couple of significant differences between the two Android browsers. Opera Mini is usually the faster of the two browsers, a move that hearkens back to Opera’s days making browsers move quickly on feature phones with slow processors and slow data connections. As a result, Opera’s servers compress Web page data; this assures that pages load in a timely manner, but it also reduces text and image resolution quality. Besides that, there’s no Flash support.

Opera Mobile, on the other hand, renders images (using its Presto rendering engine) with more clarity. If the browser seems too sluggish for your tastes, you can engage Opera Turbo, Opera’s compression engine, to essentially make Opera Mobile adopt Opera Mini’s levels of compression and speed. Opera Mobile beta doesn’t currently support Flash, although an Opera representative assured CNET that the release version will.

Naturally, we tried out Opera Mobile 10.1 beta and Opera Mini 5 side by side on Android phones. In addition to rendering more clearly, Opera Mobile displays the desktop version of CNET.com, whereas Opera Mini opts for the faster-loading mobile-optimized site, which is also lighter in content and imagery.

Opera Mini loaded m.cnet.com, CNET’s mobile-optimized site, in about 4 seconds over 3G on the Samsung Transform for Sprint. It took Opera Mobile about 10 seconds to load the full version of CNET.com on the HTC Incredible using Verizon’s 3G service. The difference in visual quality is apparent.

One internal test we always perform is how well a mobile browser identifies CNET’s public Wi-Fi hot spot and processes its authentication page for use. Opera Mini, being a proxy browser, doesn’t pass the test by definition of being something other than a standalone browser. Opera Mobile beta for Android identified an error but didn’t give us a chance to accept the hot spot’s terms, which means we had to use the stock Android browser to jump this hurdle before we could browse on Opera Mobile using local Wi-Fi. Hopefully this is something Opera will improve so users can surf on hot spots that require authentication, as do many in airports, cafes, and hotels.

Why both browsers for Android?
Making Opera Mobile available alongside Opera Mini is interesting for a variety of reasons, especially in light of the confusing differences between the two, as far as most Android owners could be concerned. In the end, Opera’s decision to offer both comes down to practicality. Opera could quickly port a version of its lighter Opera Mini proxy browser for use on Android while the company worked on the fuller Opera Mobile. Opera has not shared its future plans for keeping Opera Mobile versus Opera Mini in the Android Market, but it’s possible that “Mobile” could one day replace “Mini.”

Generally, Opera Mobile’s rich interface makes it a comely option on any mobile platform; however, with such a deep bench of alternative Android browsers–like Dolphin Browser HD and now Firefox for Android beta with its browser add-ons–Opera is really going to have to offer something extra to get noticed. Interface design is always one point of personal preference, but Opera’s speed and rendering crispness will also play a huge role as the app solidifies.

So will its ability to engage power Android users. Opera has a history of making its overhauled browser compatible with a mobile operating system, but without programming to the OS strengths. For instance, the Android Menu button does nothing on Opera Mobile, although pinch-to-zoom is now enabled.

Android 1.6 users and above can download the free Opera Mobile 10.1 beta for Android from the Android Market or http://m.opera.com/next. It’s available in 18 languages: Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian Bokmål, Norwegian Nynorsk, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish. If you try it out, let us know what you think of the beta software at this stage in its development.

Related story: Browser underdog Opera fights for survival

Article updated 11/19/10 at 10:30am PT with more analysis.

Originally posted at Android Atlas

RockMelt browser is social, but not obnoxiously so
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Is it worth switching to a new browser? Marc Andreessen never had to force users to ask that question when he built Mosaic in 1993. For most early adopters, it was their first browser.

But now he’s backing the development of another browser, RockMelt. This browser is not perfect, but it does show that there’s room yet in the market. If Facebook built a browser, it would probably look a lot like this.

This has been tried before. The other social Web browser, Flock, integrates Facebook features. Also, like Flock (at least the new 3.0 version), RockMelt is built from Chromium, the same Google-developed open toolkit underneath the Chrome browser.

RockMelt is solid effort and is worth trying. Here are some reasons you will probably like it; and, to be fair, some things that may turn you off:


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RockMelt is called the "Facebook browser" for a good reason. It gives you two dashboard wings: the left-hand wing shows you which Facebook friends are online; the right lets you drill into your social services, RSS feeds, and plug-ins.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET)

Why you’ll like it

It’s a real social browser
RockMelt shows which of your friends are online on Facebook, right in your browser. If you want to share something from the Web, you’ll know who’s going to see it right away. It makes sharing links and pages more engaging than using Twitter or even Facebook’s site. (Downside: you can’t scroll the left-hand “Facebar,” which is sorted alphabetically, so unless you filter your friends by your RockMelt favorites, you’ll always see your “A” friends on your list but you may never see your “Zs.”)

Yet the social aspect is not overwhelming
RockMelt puts your friends in a narrow bar on the left, and status badges for sites (Facebook and Twitter, plus RSS feeds and plug-ins) in a skinny bar along the right. On wide-screen and large monitors, these dashboards are at once informative and unobtrusive. The design works. Flock’s social sidebar has the cool feature of pulling status updates from all your social networks into one stream, but it’s more in your face than RockMelt’s.

Sharing is fun and easy. So is updating
There’s a “share” button near the URL entry field. You can share pages to Facebook or Twitter easily and intuitively. The same button lets you send links as private messages directly to specific Facebook users (but not as direct messages to Twitter friends.)

If this were a Facebook browser, by the way, it’d probably say “Like” instead on the Share button. Look for that change when Facebook buys out this company.

You can also send out Facebook and Twitter status updates without sharing anything. It’s equally easy and fast, although the status update button is in a different part of the browser frame.

It has a really slick search function
RockMelt breaks with Chrome’s single URL and search box concept and gives you an old-fashioned search field alongside, just like ye olde Firefox. When you search in the RockMelt field, you get a drop-down window with results that pre-cache into the background. As you cursor down the list, the page behind the window updates fast. Power browsers will appreciate a tiny but wonderful “add as tab” button in each result in the search window that opens a result in a new tab without changing your focus to it. Got a lot of results you want to visit later? Click, click, click. They’re loaded into tabs that you can get to at your leisure.

You can still search in the URL field, as with Chrome, but RockMelt’s search is better.

It’s fast like Chrome
Although it appears to be a bit of a process hog, RockMelt is fast. There’s no speed penalty for the social features.

It does RSS better than any other browser
If you’re on a site with an RSS feed, a little icon lights up to let you know it. It’s a snap to subscribe to the feed and add a site icon into your right-hand sidebar. RSS results display in a scrolling window, with previews. The RSS preview window doesn’t have the same functionality as the search results window, however.

The beta has a great invitation system
During the beta period, when you go to the RockMelt site, you’re asked to sign in with Facebook. If you request an invitation, your Facebook friends who are on RockMelt will see that you’re awaiting access when they open up their browser. Any one of them can then hook you up. As a pal on Twitter said, “It makes the inviter and invitee feel special.”

Still feels like a beta

RockMelt is still beta and it feels like it. Things you might want to think about before you dive in include the security and privacy issues of hitching a Facebook app so tightly to your browsing history. Also, RockMelt is not based on the most recent or safest build of Chromium.

It also looks like some of RockMelt’s cloud-based services are overwhelmed at the moment. My social sidebars wouldn’t load into RockMelt on a Windows machine after a restart of the browser, and the invitation system wouldn’t find all my friends when I wanted it to.

And while Chrome plug-ins will load into RockMelt, I found some that didn’t display their content correctly. RockMelt also needs a few more networking services layered into it (like LinkedIn, perhaps, or Gmail). But Facebook and Twitter are good starting points.

I don’t know if I’ll still be using RockMelt next week, but assuming the bugs get squashed in the product and that the company can reassure users about privacy, I can’t see strong reasons to avoid this browser. It’s fast, it’s got a really great search feature, and while it is a social browser, it’s subtle about it. It’s well worth taking for a spin.

Originally posted at Rafe’s Radar

Evernote for Android revs to version 2.0

Evernote home screen width="183" height="260"/>
(Credit:
Evernote)

The ever-functional and increasingly popular note-taking application Evernote has been available on desktop and mobile devices for a few years, though the app for the Android OS became available only at the beginning of this year. Today, the company made some noticeable improvements to the interface and functionality of the app with version 2.0.

The first thing Evernote addressed on its Android app was the home screen, which is now cleaner and simpler to navigate. Here, you’re greeted with six main options: new note, snapshot, all notes, tags, notebooks, and search. This screen also displays sync status, when applicable. Other interface improvements include the ability to search from the top of every screen and a tab at the bottom of the screen that lets you browse notes via scrolling thumbnails. The search feature lets you create new searches, view previous ones, access saved searches and search for things near your current location; Evernote has also improved the option to pull up common searches with filters.

Evernote header bar width="270" height="70"/>
(Credit:
Evernote)

Evernote also aimed to making sorting and browsing easier on the device. You can now group notes by notebook, location, or month and scroll between sections. If you tap and hold on any note within the list, a variety of shortcuts become available, such as edit, info, tag, and more. In addition, the app has added a header bar for quickly switching among searches, notes, tags, and notebooks.

Perhaps one of the more compelling improvements in Evernote 2.0 for Android is the noticeably faster performance. The app accomplishes this by downloading all the data about your notes and taking advantage of Android’s background processing capabilities. This also allows any note created or edited on the device to be saved for offline access; premium users can now enjoy offline access to notebooks as well.

Evernote for Android width="610" height="318"/>
(Credit:
Evernote)

Other new capabilities: use the Google Search widget to search within the Evernote app; create home screen search shortcuts (as shown in the screenshot above); record audio as you type; store the app on your SD card; and share content among apps.

Originally posted at Android Atlas

Three ways to recover a lost iPhone

FoneHome is one of several apps that can keep tabs on your iPhone's location. At only $1.99, it's an unbeatable bargain. width="269" height="498"/>

FoneHome is one of several apps that can keep tabs on your iPhone’s location. At only $1.99, it’s an unbeatable bargain.

(Credit:
Appmosys)

Want to have a really rotten day? Lose your iPhone. It’ll make you feel sick down to the pit of your stomach. Trust me: I’ve been there.

Actually, losing anything important can be a nightmare: your car keys, your wallet, that cute guy/girl’s phone number. The thing is, those items can’t tell you where they are. Your iPhone can. All you need is the right services and apps.

I’ve rounded up three that should cover just about any lost-iPhone situation:

FoneHome and iHound
These two very similar apps run in the background, transmitting your iPhone’s GPS-tracked location at regular intervals. If your phone goes missing, you just find a Web browser, sign in to your account, and pinpoint its location on a map. You can also transmit a custom “I’m lost” message or audio alert. The difference is, FoneHome costs $1.99, whereas iHound is $3.99, plus $10.99 per year. I’ve been using the former for a few months, and it works like a charm.

MobileMe
The Rolls-Royce of lost-iPhone options is MobileMe–and it’s priced like one, too. Apple’s multifaceted service costs $99 annually (though you can typically buy it for around $60 from Amazon). It not only syncs all your contacts, appointments, and other stuff, but also provides the enviable Find My iPhone, which shows the phone’s location on a map (either on your PC or another iOS device running the Find My iPhone app).

Like FoneHome and iHound, it can push a custom “I’m lost” message. Unlike them, it can set a four-digit passcode (so whoever has your phone can’t access it), or even remotely wipe the phone. That kind of peace of mind might be worth the steep price.

Where’s My Phone?
This new app (99 cents) works on a more “local” level; it’s designed for people who set their phone down somewhere in their home or office and then can’t find it again. All you do is clap your hands (or make some other kind of loud noise) and the phone vibrates or plays an alert sound.

Have you found a phone-tracking app you like better than these? Tell me all about it in the comments!

Originally posted at iPhone Atlas

Browser underdog Opera fights for survival

OSLO, Norway–Opera Software, the scrappy Norwegian browser maker, today faces arguably the biggest competitive threats of its 15-year history.

Opera CEO Lars Boilesen width="270" height="346"/>

CEO Lars Boilesen must lead Opera amid serious competitive challenges.

(Credit:
Stephen Shankland/CNET)

The first challenges are on personal computers. Right after Google’s Chrome burst onto the scene two years ago, Opera slipped from fourth to fifth place in browser usage worldwide. And longtime archrival Microsoft is no longer the punching bag of the browser market; its forthcoming IE9 is a serious attempt to match rivals in performance and support for new Web standards.

Second, in Opera’s other domain, Apple’s iPhone and now Google’s Android are rewriting the mobile browsing rules. Their browsers are adapted for phones more like miniature desktop computers than the small-screened, candy bar-shape models that prevailed when Opera’s mobile browsing business began.

And yet the Oslo underdog has adapted to crises before and appears to be adapting to the present changes as well.

In a series of interviews at its headquarters here, Opera executives showed they suffer no illusions about the competition. They also made a credible case that Opera, while not about to dethrone its bigger rivals, will continue to defend its turf with a profitable business.

A new mobile strategy
One cornerstone of its confidence comes from a major shift in its mobile strategy in response to a dark, unprofitable patch in the second half of 2009. Opera shifted its alliance efforts from phone companies to the powerful network operators who see their future threatened by the new generation of smartphones and services.

Revenue from mobile network operators is growing--and a growing fraction of Opera's business. width="294" height="288"/>

Revenue from mobile network operators is growing–and a growing fraction of Opera’s business. Here it’s shown in Norwegian Kroner.

(Credit:
Opera)

“We’re taking bigger bets on operators because they need us more than bigger handset operators,” said CEO Lars Boilesen. Phone makers’ expansion into operating systems, applications, and app stores threaten to demote carriers to mere “dumb pipes,” but Opera’s software can help maintain those carriers’ customer relationships.

And so far, the shift is paying off for the browser company. For one thing, Opera has more engineers to devote to the core products–Opera Mini and Opera Mobile–because the company is delivering the same branded browser to carrier partners rather than variations of an unbranded browser to phone makers. For another, the carriers pay recurring fees based on active users, not the one-time, up-front payment of phone makers.

The result: revenue from operators has increased to $9 million in the second quarter of 2010, up from about $7.1 million two quarters earlier.

Revenue from Opera’s desktop browser, which runs on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux and comes with a money-making search box leading to Google or other search engines, helped prop up the finances during the mobile transition. And a newer business–browsers on Net-connected TVs and set-top boxes–also is increasing.

Overall, the company’s second-quarter net income was a $3.3 million–less than a rounding error at its competitors but enough profit to keep the company in its niche.

Opera co-founder Jon S. von Tetzchner width="120" height="162"/>

Opera co-founder Jon S. von Tetzchner

(Credit:
Stephen Shankland/CNET)

A 15-year Opera
Opera was founded June 22, 1995, though its roots extend to a research project begun in 1994 at Telenor, Norway’s largest telecommunications company. It remains in the same Oslo building that’s housed it for years, even as its neighbors–search company Fast Search and Transfer, developer toolmaker Troll Tech, and videoconfercing specialist Tandberg–sold to Microsoft, Nokia, and Cisco Systems, respectively.

It’s very far from the U.S. software industry–geographically and culturally. Even with fierce competition from overseas rivals, several Opera employees took pride in a work-life balance at odds with the Silicon Valley ethos.

And yet it’s not only eked out a living, persisting as browser efforts from IBM, Symantec, Sun Microsystems, and Netscape fell by the wayside, it’s actually won a measure of influence.

Opera helped keep the fires of Web development burning during the dark years when Microsoft’s Internet Explorer grew dormant after winning the browser wars of the 1990s and when standards groups were fruitlessly focused on dead-end XHTML technology. It won a band of loyal users who help to promote the browser, eagerly pointing out that innovations such as tabbed browsing, a built-in search box, Web page thumbnails on the new-tab page originated at Opera. It’s secured some helpful geographic strongholds such as Russia. And its mobile browser products top the market even as the headlines go to Apple.

Partly through its standards-group work, Opera punches above its weight in the industry. Its independent support can help new technology such as Google’s WebM for video streaming or Mozilla’s Web Open Font Format get off the ground, for example. And its chief technology officer, Håkon Wium Lie, worked with Web founder Tim Berners-Lee and founded the Web formatting technology called Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) that’s now one of the hottest areas of Web design.

Opera CTO Håkon Wium Lie width="120" height="180"/>

Opera CTO Håkon Wium Lie

(Credit:
Stephen Shankland/CNET)

Perhaps surprisingly, the company now employs 700 people, and 80 percent of them are engineers. The vast majority of people don’t use Opera’s products, but those who do now number more than 140 million.

Those engineers are working on cramming features into Opera. Its new version 11 for desktop machines, though still in alpha testing, will be an important test as Opera adds extensions to customize the browser and match rivals’ hardware acceleration, according to Lars Erik Bolstad, vice president of core technology. Those programmers also are building hardware acceleration into Opera Mini and Mobile so, for example, pinch-to-zoom and scrolling work smoothly on capable phones

Real threats
The competitive threats are real, though. Even as Opera hangs on to its slice of browser market, three of its competitors–Apple, Google, and Microsoft–are tech giants with powerful global brands and tremendous financial resources. The fourth, Mozilla, rose from the ashes of Netscape with Firefox. It, not Opera, is the independent browser that grew to the top alternative to the browser built into Windows.

All these competitors are pouring development funds into their browsers as the market takes on new importance. The increasing power of Web applications such as Google Docs and Facebook means customers spend ever more time working and living within the frame of a browser window.

This chart shows how chrome continued its growth October 2010, but Opera has languished with largely unchanged share of worldwide browser usage. width="566" height="367"/>

Chrome continued its growth October 2010, but Opera has languished with largely unchanged share of worldwide browser usage.

(Credit:
data from Net Applications; chart by Stephen Shankland/CNET)

And Opera isn’t at the top of Web developers’ priority lists. Web standards mean compatibility isn’t as hard as it once was, but it’s still a huge problem. The deluge of new technologies, some essentially trial versions of what might become standards, make it worse.

“I always feel Opera is the Rodney Dangerfield of browsers. They get no respect,” said Brad Neuberg, who’s worked on many Web projects at Google including Google Docs and Gears before striking off to begin a start-up trying to capitalize on HTML5 and related Web technologies.

“There’s a clunkiness to it,” Neuberg added. “The technical underpinnings are amazing,” but Opera needs a user experience experts to “make it feel like a joy to use.”

On the mobile side, development is on fire with the new generation of smartphones. Even though native applications are a dominant means of tapping into network services on iOS and Android devices, mobile browsing use also is growing at a healthy rate.

Opera desktop revenue, fueled by revenue-sharing deals with companies such as Google, has been increasing. width="400" height="367"/>

Opera desktop revenue, fueled by revenue-sharing deals with companies such as Google, has been increasing.

(Credit:
Opera)

Notably, iOS’s Safari and Android’s built-in browser are both based on the same open-source engine, WebKit. As notably, so is the browser in Hewlett-Packard’s WebOS for Palm phones, Samsung’s Bada mobile operating system, and the browser coming to new BlackBerry devices. WebKit has proven a unifying, empowering force in mobile browsing.

Indeed, it was WebKit that whacked Opera’s unbranded browser business.

Mobile choices
Opera sees room for others–hardly a surprise given that about 70 percent of its revenue comes from mobile compared with about 30 percent for its desktop browser. It’s adapting its two browsers–Mini and Mobile–to keep its business humming despite the smartphone market upheaval.

First, a primer on what separates the two. Opera Mini, the company’s first mobile browser, is geared for wimpier hardware. To handle pages on a Web steadily growing more complicated, Mini uses Opera servers to read the Web pages, boil them down into a compressed state, then send them to the display vessel that is Mini. It makes money for Opera when the company customizes it to put carrier-preferred shortcuts on the “speed dial” quick-launch page–for example a Vodafone offer for two free weeks of Internet access in Egypt–and can share in resulting revenue.

Opera Mobile, in contrast, is a full-fledged browser based on the same engine that runs on the desktop version of Opera. That means it works on interactive Web applications where Opera Mini often struggles or fails. It’s available on Nokia’s Symbian operating system, among other areas, and tomorrow is set to arrive in beta form on Android.

Opera Chief Development Officer Christen Krogh width="120" height="176"/>

Opera Chief Development Officer Christen Krogh

(Credit:
Stephen Shankland/CNET)

The Android product will bring the revenue-sharing business model of the desktop browser to new mobile users, said Christen Krogh, Opera’s chief development officer. “We want because we think the consumer monetization model we’re helping bring about on mobile is going to be really lucrative,” Krogh said. Opera came out ahead when in 2005 it moved from charging for the Opera desktop browser itself to getting a fraction of online transactions such as clicking on search ads that its browser helped facilitate.

“We think that model is going to be really lucrative in mobile,” Krogh said.

Like Opera for the desktop, Opera Mobile got a turbo mode that can use the Opera servers for a speed boost when networks are strained.

“We are living in a bubble,” in first-world countries with disposable income and fast networks, said Jon S. von Tetzchner, Opera’s co-founder and until the end of last year chief executive. Opera’s browsers are designed to reach the rest of the world as well, and that is where a huge amount of growth for Internet services is taking place.

And while the smartphone revolution is real, he said, so is the growth of lesser models. Moore’s Law, broadly speaking, has enabled powerful hardware in high-end smartphones, but that’s not the only change it’s brought to the mobile market.

“Instead of something twice as powerful, you’re actually seeing a more reasonable price,” von Tetzchner said. “They cut the cost instead.” Such lower-cost handsets are often the staples in areas such as India where mobile phones, not PCs, are the dominant way people tap into the Net.

Opera Mobile for Android mascot width="270" height="175"/>

Opera is working on Opera Mobile, its full-fledged mobile browser, for Android devices, with public beta release set for Tuesday.

(Credit:
Opera)

Turbo time
“When CPUs get faster, we want to do hardware acceleration as much as the next guy, but we also want to do the harder optimization–what do you do when the device is almost crawling?” von Tetzchner said. “From a programmer challenge point of view, that’s a much harder problem.”

And it’s still relevant in the rich part of the world, where network connections often are overtaxed even where high-speed networks have arrived. Opera Mini and Opera Mobile can also cut data usage for the large number of people without unlimited data plans.

The service is widely used; Opera just opened a new data center in Iceland to support 20 million Opera Mini users in Europe, Africa, and Asia. It’s not easy to run at scale, as browser maker Skyfire showed when its new browser application for streaming Flash to the iPhone
overwhelmed its servers
.

Carriers like it the turbo service because it gives them precise visibility into statistics such as how people use the Net, for example letting them gauge how likely people are to need more lucrative higher-end data subscription plans.

“We give them precise analytics of Opera users on the network,” Boilesen said.

Opera data center in Iceland to service Opera Mini users width="415" height="379"/>

Opera opened new operations at the Thor Data Center in Iceland to service Opera Mini users.

(Credit:
Opera)

Also, through a 2010 acquisition of Californian mobile ad network AdMarvel, Opera has the ability to feed ads efficiently into the billions of Web pages it delivers through its servers. It’s not a lot of revenue today, but Opera expects growth.

But Opera still needs to work on its turbo mode, Boilesen said–starting with visibility.

“We have not really successfully launched turbo,” he said. “We don’t need to relaunch it, but we need to get people to try turbo on phones.”

In the big picture, being a gateway to tens of millions of people’s usage of the Web is indeed a powerful position. The company just needs to figure the best way to accommodate Web applications, avoid abuses of its privileged role, and extract money from the role most effectively.

“I think it’s interesting times for Opera,” Boilesen said. “We have something nobody else has.”

Originally posted at Deep Tech

New browser RockMelt oozes into beta
width="610" height="474"/>

A look at social sharing on the new RockMelt browser.

(Credit:
RockMelt)

Little has been known about stealth start-up RockMelt except that it’s a browser, specifically (and yet ambiguously) a “Facebook browser,” and it’s backed by browser godfather Marc Andreessen. Well, now RockMelt has crept out of the woodwork into a limited beta for Mac and Windows, and the world can get a peek at it.

RockMelt is indeed a “Facebook browser,” if only because Facebook is the social-media service that’s best integrated into it at launch. It’s clear that ultimately the browser’s team plans to make it more customizable with other services. The ultimate goal, you could say, is revamping the traditional browser many of the Web-browsing behaviors that have popped up in the past few years–social-media sharing, Twitter clients, RSS alerts, and speedier search–and works them into an interface that aims for convenience rather than confusion. While it may still have too many bells and whistles for the average Web user, it’s likely to attract some curiosity from hardcore social-media users, obsessive multitaskers, and efficiency geeks who see an opportunity to cut down on the number of browser tabs and desktop applications that they may have open.

“We’re reinventing the browser for how people user the Web today, which is dramatically different from how people were using the Web only a few short years ago,” RockMelt co-founder Tim Howes told CNET.

First of all, you log in with Facebook Connect upon launching RockMelt. There’s a left sidebar of easy Facebook access, including a row of “top friends” that you can select, and you can drag or drop content from the main browser (like links or videos) to immediately share it with one of them in Facebook Chat. (Unfortunately, there is not yet support for other instant-messaging clients.)

Then, on the right side bar, is a customizable list of favorite sites and services, with yellow indicators to tell you when there’s new content from a blog you read or the people you follow on Twitter. There’s a browser button to share content on Facebook or Twitter (and more services to come); the company even has its own URL shortener, http://me.lt.

The search box at the top is also different than your average browser’s. It loads up a list of results in a drop-down menu, and begins “preloading” all of them so that you can flip back and forth between individual results at maximum speed.

“It changes the way you search because it makes it so much faster and so much lighter-weight,” co-founder Eric Vishria explained.

The term “social browser” has been thrown about before, namely three years ago with the launch of Flock, a Firefox-based browser loaded with a dizzying number of social features. RockMelt certainly looks a lot cleaner. Built on Chromium, the foundation of Google Chrome, it aims to be fast, too.

Will people actually switch over to it? Vishria raised a statistic that in the past three years, 500 million people have switched browsers, so that getting them to switch again may be less difficult than it sounds.

RockMelt employs about 30 people, has been in the works for two years, and has raised about $10 million in funding from the Andreessen Horowitz venture firm as well as other investors like Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital and ubiquitous angel investor Ron Conway.

And its odd, vaguely geology-evoking name? It “came out of a three-week brainstorming sesion where we had a million different names,” Howes said. Added Vishria: “Easy to spell, easy to remember, and the domain was available.”

Originally posted at The Social